December 29, 2014
The Greatest Players by Sweater Number: 0-20
Wayne Gretzky's #99 is the most famous number in hockey. But let's spend some time this week and take a look at who made all the other sweater numbers famous. Without further ado, here are the Greatest Players by Sweater Number:
00 -- John Davidson - Did you know that Hall of Fame broadcaster turned NHL executive extraordinaire John Davidson used to be a National Hockey League goalie? His on-ice career was not quite as note-worthy, though he made quite the impression in 1977-78 when he became the first player to wear 00 in NHL history. Martin Biron, another goalie, is the only other player in NHL history to wear 00. Bernie Parent was actually the first goalie in big league hockey to wear 00. He wore it in his short stint with the Philadelphia Blazers of the WHA in 1972-73.
0 -- Neil Sheehy - For 26 games with the Hartford Whalers in the 1987-88 season rugged defenseman Neil Sheehy wore 0. He had a lot of fun with it, too, always coming up with new stories as to why he wore it. When Sheehy adopted the more conventional #15 when he joined the Washington Capitals, the NHL banned any further use of 0 or 00, citing conflicts with their software databases. Paul Bibeault is the only other player in NHL history to wear 0. The goalie wore it in the 1942-43 season. He also wore 16 before settling on 1.
1 -- Jacques Plante - The man who literally changed the face of hockey by donning the mask (not to forget about his many other innovations to the puck-stopping profession) edges out a long list of fantastic goalies for the #1 billing. Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Johnny Bower, Ed Giacomin, Bernie Parent and Georges Vezina. But did you know four NHL skaters - all early era greats, also have worn #1? They are Herb Gardiner, Sprague Cleghorn, Marty Burke and Babe Siebert.
2 -- Doug Harvey - Harvey, the great controller of the game from the Montreal Canadiens dynasty of the 1950s, narrowly edges out the legendary Eddie Shore here. More modern names also deserve support including Brian Leetch, Al MacInnis and Mark Howe.
3 -- Pierre Pilote - Pierre Pilote was the last great Original Six before Bobby Orr redefined the position. Other notable #3s include more dmen like Marcel Pronovost, J.C. Tremblay and Butch Bouchard. Charlie Coyle, rookie winger with the Minnesota Wild, is trying to break the stereotype that this is strictly a defensemen's number.
4 -- Bobby Orr - At first thought it is obvious that top billing here has to go to "Number Four, Bobby Orr." But let's not forget about Jean Beliveau and Red Kelly. Other notables include Bill Gadsby, Scott Stevens and Vincent Lecavalier.
5 -- Nicklas Lidstrom - The Swedish Sensation won an amazing 7 Norris Trophies as the NHL's best defenseman in a span of 8 seasons and became the first European-born and trained player to captain a Stanley Cup winner, one of the four he's played on. His longevity gives him the edge here over another defensive great, Denis Potvin. Other notables here are Dit Clapper, Bernie Geoffrion, Guy Lapointe and Rod Langway.
6 -- Phil Housley - Housley is the highest-scoring U.S.-born defenseman in NHL history, putting up 1,232 points in 1,495 games -- all but one played while wearing No. 6 (he wore No. 96 in his lone game with Toronto, the last of his 21-year career). Interestingly, the #6 is historically not a very revered number, Ace Bailey is the only #6 to ever have his number retired, and that was partially influence by the tragic end of his career. Other notables include Ron Ellis and Ralph Backstrom. Oh and Don Cherry in his only NHL game.
7 -- Phil Esposito - Espo shattered NHL scoring marks and helped the Bruins set records that lasted until the Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers surpassed them. Espo heads a long list of greats who wore #7 including Howie Morenz, Tim Horton, Ted Lindsay and King Clancy. That does not even include Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey, who, after years of excelling in #7 switched to #77.
8 -- Alex Ovechkin - The Great 8 gets the nod over Teemu Selanne, who broke in in Winnipeg with #13. Cam Neely and Bill Mosienko also get consideration. Ovechkin, by the way, wears 8 because that was his mother's number when she won gold medals at the 1976 and 1980 Olympics in basketball.
9-- Gordie Howe - There was a time when #9 was the most famous number in hockey, thanks to three of the greatest players in NHL history - Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and Bobby Hull (who also experimented with 7 and 16).
10 -- Guy Lafleur - Tough call here but "The Flower" gets the nod for his electrifying play over the consistent production of Ron Francis, the 4th highest scoring player in NHL history. Alex Delvecchio, Syl Apps and George Armstrong also get nods.
11 -- Mark Messier - Renowned for his leadership skills and his 5 Stanley Cups, Messier is also the NHL's second highest scoring player of all time. He easily wins this debate over Gilbert Perreault, Mike Gartner and Bill Quackenbush.
12 -- Dickie Moore - Moore was once hailed as the man who not only would replace Rocket Richard, but make everyone forget all about him. That didn't quite come true, but Moore's Hall of Fame career makes him the best #12, edging out Jarome Iginla, Yvan Cournoyer and Sid Abel.
13 -- Mats Sundin - #13 was lucky to highest scoring player in Toronto Maple Leafs history. Pavel Datsyuk is knocking on door though. 87 players in NHL history have worn the unlucky number prior to the 2014-15 season.
14 -- Dave Keon - The Toronto Maple Leafs legend edges out modern day warriors Brendan Shanahan and Theo Fleury in the surprisingly weak class of #14s.
15 -- Milt Schmidt - In the days before Gordie Howe, Milt Schmidt was the most complete player in hockey. Bert Olmstead and Bobby Smith get consideration here, too.
16 -- Brett Hull - Super sniper Brett Hull finished his career with 741 goals, the third-highest total in NHL history. That includes 226 goals in a three-year span with St. Louis and 86 in 1990-91! Marcel Dionne, Bobby Clarke, and Henri Richard also get strong consideration.
17 -- Jari Kurri - Wayne Gretzky's longtime linemate finished his Hall of Fame career with 601 goals, 1,398 points and four Stanley Cup rings. It's not even close here, as Wendel Clark and, gulp, Ilya Kovalchuk rank high. Soviet sensation Valeri Kharlamov really does deserve at least second billing here, though.
18 -- Denis Savard - If your last name is Savard and you want your kid to play in the NHL, make sure he wears #18. Denis Savard, the most exciting player of the 1980s (yes, that includes Wayne Gretzky), edges out Serge Savard, the "Minister of Defense" as the greatest #18.
19 -- Steve Yzerman - Perhaps popularized, at least in Canada, by Paul Henderson's heroics, the number 19 has replaced the number 9 as the most revered number in hockey in recent generations. We'll give the edge to Steve Yzerman over an impressive list that includes Joe Sakic, Bryan Trottier, Larry Robinson, and Jean Ratelle.
20 -- Luc Robitaille - The highest scoring left winger in history gets the nod here, though I'd love to give it to Soviet goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak. The only problem there is he never got the chance to play in the NHL.